We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Turgot (c.1050–1115), author and bishop of St Andrews, was, according to Symeon of Durham (the source for almost all that is known of Turgot's early life), born of a ‘not undistinguished’ English family from Lindsey, Lincolnshire. He was evidently a clerk. After the Norman conquest Turgot was held as a hostage by the Normans in Lincoln Castle, but bribed his way out of captivity and escaped on a Norwegian merchant ship from Grimsby. In Norway he was well received by King Olaf III (d. 1093), became a teacher of psalmody, and was patronized by the king and the Norwegian nobles. Although he felt leanings to a monastic vocation, the wealth and comfort of his life meant that he did not act on them at this time; but he again began to consider entering the religious life after losing all his property in a shipwreck while returning to England. At the suggestion of Walcher, bishop of Durham (d. 1080), he went to live in the newly refounded monastery of Jarrow under Prior Aldwin, though he still remained a clerk rather than a monk (c.1074). He subsequently went with Aldwin to Melrose and attempted to establish an ecclesiastical community there, but the pair were faced with threats from Malcolm III, king of Scots (d. 1093), since ‘they were unwilling to swear fealty to him’ (Symeon of Durham, Opera, 1.112). On their return south, Turgot became a monk at the new foundation of Wearmouth (c.1075). It is probable that he was one of the monks who went from Wearmouth to help found the monastic community at Durham in 1083, and he was appointed prior there in 1087. From 1093 this was a post that he combined (unusually) with the archdeaconry of Durham.

As prior, Turgot played an active role in the transformation of Norman Durham. He administered the diocese during the exile of Bishop William of St Calais (d. 1096) between 1088 and 1091. Along with the bishop he laid the foundation stone of the new cathedral in 1093 and he was the prime organizer of the translation of the relics of St Cuthbert to the new east end in 1104. His earlier difficulties with King Malcolm seem not to have prevented close relations with the Scottish royal family. Malcolm himself was among those at the foundation ceremony of 1093, and the king and his wife, Margaret (d. 1093), together with their children, were admitted to religious confraternity with the monks and had special commemoration at Durham, while their son Alexander (later king—d. 1124) was present at the translation of 1104. The Scottish kings were also generous in their endowments. The grant by Edgar (d. 1107) in 1095 included Coldingham and its shire, the nucleus of the later priory of Coldingham, a dependency of Durham. Turgot's period of office also witnessed losses for Durham, however. He was unable to recover the priory of Tynemouth, which Earl Robert de Mowbray had taken from the monks of Durham and granted to the abbey of St Albans. And the claim to archidiaconal rights over Carlisle and Teviotdale had to be abandoned in 1101, though the real exercise of such authority earlier, at least in Teviotdale, is shown by the fact that Turgot was able to have the body of Bishop Walcher's killer expelled from the church of Jedburgh—an act that also avenged his earlier patron.

Glimpses of Turgot's life as prior can also be obtained from a contemporary account of Cuthbert's miracles. He is seen on a journey to the south of England, seeking hospitality for the night and, later, entertaining the royal court with the story of a miracle; on Lindisfarne, helping some storm-driven sailors, who turn out to be pirates, and then exercising mercy toward them; in Durham Cathedral, advising the victim of a punitive miracle that no further penance will be demanded of him. Vigour and mercifulness are the characteristics that emerge. In June 1107 Turgot was elected bishop of St Andrews, at the wish of the Scottish king, Alexander I. Consecration was delayed by ecclesiastical disputes between York and St Andrews, with York claiming authority over St Andrews. Eventually Turgot was consecrated by Thomas, archbishop of York, on 1 August 1109, but with mutual reservation of rights. He found, according to Symeon of Durham, that he could not exercise his episcopal office in Scotland ‘worthily’ and resolved to go to Rome, but was prevented by the king. He subsequently became ill and was allowed to return to Durham, where he died on 31 August 1115 and was buried in the chapter house.

The only extant writing by Turgot is his life of Margaret, queen of Scots, of which there are two manuscripts, one in the British Library (Cotton MS Tiberius D.iii) and one in the library of the royal palace in Madrid (Palacio Real, MS II 2097), in addition to the late medieval abbreviated version of John of Tynemouth. (Doubts about the attribution of the work and the hypothesis of the existence of two early versions are groundless.) The life was composed between 1100 and 1107 and dedicated to Margaret's daughter Matilda, queen of Henry I of England. Turgot explains in the preface that Matilda had urged him to write the work since she knew that he had been ‘well informed about the queen's private life because of the great friendship between them’ (Turgot, 234). When exactly Turgot established this close contact with Margaret is not clear, although it was obviously some time between his return to England c.1074 and her death in 1093. He mentions the ‘long period’ he served in the church at Dunfermline and his frequent private conversation with her about religious matters. He ‘returned home’, as he himself puts it, at least six months before her death. This evidence might suggest either a long period at the Scottish court or shorter frequent visits.

Turgot portrays Margaret in the work as a grave and devout reforming queen. Her descent from the Wessex line of kings is stressed, as is the way she made court ceremonial in Scotland more seemly and ostentatious. Focus is placed on her knowledge of scripture, austerities, constant prayer, and generosity to the church and the poor. In particular, Turgot speaks of the reforming councils she held, and it has been noticed that the programme of reform undertaken by these councils bears a strong resemblance to that outlined in two papal letters sent to Turgot and the Scottish church by Pope Paschal II, probably in 1114 and presumably in response to information sent by Turgot himself. It may thus be assumed that these issues were important to him. They include proper observance of days of feast and fast, confession, communion, and marriage law. This combination of ritual and pastoral concerns reflects very well both the clerk and the monk in Turgot. A well-born Anglo-Saxon cleric of the Danelaw who looked naturally to Scandinavia, Turgot also worked effectively in the world of post-conquest England, furthering the beauty and the interests of his church of Durham and playing an important part in the process of Anglicization and ecclesiastical reform in Scotland that is linked with the name of the Anglo-Saxon princess Margaret.

Robert Bartlett

Sources  

Symeon of Durham, Opera · Turgot of Durham, ‘Vita sanctae Margaritae Scotorum reginae’, in Symeonis Dunelmensis opera et collectanea, ed. [J. Hodgson Hinde], SurtS, 51 (1868), 234–54 · D. E. R. Watt, Ecclesia Scoticana (Stuttgart, 1991), 81–2 · D. Bethell, ‘Two letters of Pope Paschal II to Scotland’, SHR, 49 (1970), 33–45 · D. W. Rollason, M. Harvey, and M. Prestwich, eds., Anglo-Norman Durham (1994) · A. A. M. Duncan, ‘The earliest Scottish charters’, SHR, 37 (1958), 103–35 · L. L. Huneycutt, ‘The idea of a perfect princess: the Life of St Margaret in the reign of Matilda II (1100–1118)’, Anglo-Norman Studies, 12 (1989), 81–97 · D. Baker, ‘A nursery of saints: St Margaret of Scotland reconsidered’, Medieval women, ed. D. Baker, SCH, subsidia, 1 (1978)

Archives  

BL, Cotton MS Tiberius D.iii · Palacio Real, Madrid, MS II 2097